By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
April 17, 2019
A week ago Reginald Vidale, chairman of the Eric Williams Memorial Committee, begged the government “to celebrate the life and legacy of Williams as the founding father of the country and Caricom” and “to declare a day of remembrance, not necessarily a public holiday, to reflect on his contribution” (Newsday, April 4)
Ayanna Webster-Roy, Minister of Culture, countered by suggesting that, like Williams, the country must champion nation-building by following the nation’s watchwords: discipline, tolerance and production.
She noted: “We can’t afford to fail our past generations like Dr. Williams by not looking at the sustainable development of our future generation. We need students who think critically and challenge existing theories and perspectives. We don’t want students to simply regurgitate information; we want them to create knowledge and become innovators for positive and sustainable change. This is what Dr. Williams would have wanted.”
Webster-Roy did not respond to Vidale’s challenge. One cannot talk about creating sustainable development and promoting critical thinking without encouraging citizens to engage in highly ethical behavior and recognize that money alone does not make the man or woman.
Vidale is calling for a society that thinks about its past critically and its present creatively. To achieve this goal one has to develop a mindset that respects those citizens who went before us and set standards for the younger citizens to follow.
Sustainable development concerns itself with “how much” rather than “how good.” There is a danger that it emphasizes the worst aspects of our being rather than what is noble and uplifting within us. Although our society has grown (more money has come into the society), our quality of life has degenerated.
Three current examples illustrate the point. The Cabinet approved the lease of a building owned by the attorney general and his wife that will earn them over $23 million over the next three years. The AG says he recused himself from participating in that decision, but surely few people believe that his colleagues suddenly forgot their friendship with him once he walked out of that room.
Such a decision redounds to the AG’s sustainable development but reduces the public confidence of fairness in the conduct of their affairs. It does not reflect a heightened sensibility of good government and awareness that elected representatives represent us rather than themselves.
Curtis James, a senior financial officer of the Port Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (PATT) is accused of using the company’s credit card for his own business. According to the Express, James “produced a $442 receipt for PATT, stating it was for a business lunch he attended on Valentine’s Day last year.”
The only problem about that rendition was, “The record shows that James had called in sick that day” (Express, April 5).
Management allowed James to repay the money and keep his job.
Asked to explain his behavior, James responded: “I have no comment and I do not know what you are talking about.”
The same day that the Express reported James’s behavior, it carried a story about Anand Ramlogan’s seeming conflict of interest. Ramlogan, the former attorney general, was representing Ravi Balgobin Maharaj, a UNC activist, in his application to have “the Privy Council determine whether a local judge erred in refusing to grant him permission to bring juridical review proceedings against Petrotrin.”
During the court proceedings, Raymond Clayton who was also representing Maharaj, indicated that Ramlogan would address the Law Lords. Lord Nicholas Wilson, one of the Law Lords, interjected: “Mr. Clayton, can you, before he gets to his feet, explain whether, as caught my eye, reading this carefully yesterday, he has had a role in this. Was he the Attorney General for T&T prior to the General Elections of September 15 (2015)?”
Receiving an affirmative response, Lord Wilson asked Clayton if it was “appropriate for him [Ramlogan] to be counsel” for Maharaj in light of his role prior to January 2014 when he was the AG.
A British Law Lord pointed out this discrepancy. But, as Denyse Rennie observed: “The Law Lords were not the first to have expressed concern over Ramlogan’s decision to appear in cases against the state in which he had a role as AG.”
These examples of scampishness tell us about the moral sloppiness that resides at the center of our national psyche. It raises the question: Can an understanding of our history play a role in repairing—or at least make us conscious of—this national defect?
As a community we have to choose between sustainable development and/or a diminished social consciousness. We have to decide if we need to accumulate more goods, producing a community where amorality becomes the sine que non of our existence.
Maxwell Philip was Trinidad’s first black solicitor general and acting attorney general. Sir Sanford Freeling, governor of Trinidad, called him a distinguished “colored gentleman” and C. L. R. James described him as one of the important legal luminaries of the nineteenth century. He carried himself with dignity and pride and embodied moral rectitude. The seriousness with which he took in his office can be gleaned from his scathing denunciation of Chief Justice Joseph Needham in a letter he penned to Governor Freeling on November 29, 1883.
Vidale believes a study of our history may give us a better sense of who we are. Reflecting on the accomplishments of our leaders may heighten our moral awareness and sharpen our ethical sensibilities. It may even help us come to terms with the moral degeneracy that is descending gradually upon our society.
Vidale may have a point. We need to pay attention to what he is saying.